Discussions surrounding a proposed 18,000-panel solar farm south of Woody Creek are on hold after Pitkin County’s assistant county attorney determined that the project application is not appropriate for scrutiny under the “location and extent” review process.
Instead, if the power-plant project is to proceed, the applicant, Pitkin County Solar LLC, must resubmit its application for “special review,” which is considered to be a more extensive vetting process. Location and extent review is the path typically taken by governmental entities seeking local endorsements of their projects by other entities within their jurisdictions.
A county presentation and public hearing before the county Planning & Zoning Commission had been set for Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. The meeting was canceled after the applicant withdrew its application in light of the determination from assistant county attorney Richard Neiley III.
An email from the county’s community development department, along with an Oct. 9 letter to the developer that provides further explanation from Neiley, recently was sent to area stakeholders, such as Holy Cross Energy and the Woody Creek Caucus. The regional electricity utility is a partner in the project with private company Renewable Energy Systems and the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District. The caucus, meanwhile, along with other local groups, has raised concerns about the project’s impact on the rural environment.
“The applicant for the project has agreed not to proceed under the location and extent review, and is amending their application to request special review approval instead...,” the email says. “Once the applicant amends the application, we will refer the amended application to you for comment and will reschedule the application for review by the planning commission.”
The project application was submitted in May by Pitkin County Solar LLC, a subsidiary of RES Distributed. Pitkin County Solar would lease 33 acres of a 55-acre parcel from the Aspen Consolidated Sanitation District for the solar energy farm. From 1974 to 2005, the sanitation district used the land as a biosolids disposal site.
The project was described in application materials as a for-profit venture by Pitkin County Solar to supply energy to Holy Cross Energy, the nonprofit electricity cooperative that provides power to over 55,000 customers in the Roaring Fork Valley and along the I-70 corridor of the Western Slope. The 5-megawatt facility would deliver electricity to Holy Cross’s distribution system through a half-mile extension to an existing distribution line.
Neiley’s letter sheds more light on the arrangement among the three partners, the need for more specific information and issues that prevent the project from being reviewed under location and extent.
The application states that Pitkin Solar intends to sell the electricity to Holy Cross Energy. Neiley, in his letter to Bara Jacobsma, development manager for RES Distributed, notes that Pitkin Solar represents in the application that Holy Cross may have an option to purchase the project in the future, “but the specifics of the purchase option as well as the referenced power purchase agreement have not been provided to the county with the application.”
Neiley writes that on its face, the project is “potentially entitled” to location and extent review, the purpose of which is to determine whether any structure, public utility, road or other type of public or private project conforms with the county master plan.
However, state law “makes it clear that, in the case of privately owned, public utilities, submission to the Planning & Zoning Commission must come from the utility provider. Here, the application describes the project as one that will be owned by RES/Pitkin Solar and [the] application lists ACSD as the applicant, but not the owner of the project,” Neiley writes.
As of Friday, an amended application had not been resubmitted.